A few weeks ago, this tweet popped up in my twitter feed:
“I will never understand why a woman would pay someone to watch her kids while she goes to work at a church.”
I have strong feelings about this topic, but it’s not suited to a twitter conversation: 140 characters leaves space for pointed replies and rhetorical questions, but not much else. Others rose to take the bait, though. A flurry of tweets followed, mostly denouncing the comment, but one or two applauding.
She quickly followed it up with:
Oops, apparently it’s 2012 and you’re not supposed to say stuff like that anymore.
When I went to capture the screenshots the next day, the tweets had been deleted.
I get a lot of emails from 20- and 30-something women who are trying to find a way to work and to be there for their families. I believe it can be done, and it would be a lot easier for women to figure this thing out if we had more models to look to and less inflammatory rhetoric on the internet (or at playgroup).
Black and white
There used to be–20, 30 years ago–a hard line between work and family. Mothers could join the workforce full-time, or stay home with the kids full-time. Black, and white. Some women were able to find something in the middle–something that combined both, but it was hard to do. 9-5 work was the norm, part-time work was hard to come by, and much work was location-dependent: it needed to be (or was required to be) done on-site in the workplace.
But things have changed radically in the last 20 years. (I’m skimming over the details here, but there’s a whole section devoted to the reasons behind the change in my ebook, out mid-September.) The hard line between work and home is blurring. The workplace has gone grey, and workers–especially women–are custom blending their own shade all the time.
This isn’t true for every workplace, of course, and isn’t possible for some professions. But it’s very possible for much church work, which is a great thing–for women, and for the church.
The trends that matter
A friend of mine dropped out of the workforce after she had her first baby. She quit her full-time church job to stay home with her kids. She’s been active in the church as a volunteer ever since, because she loved what she did there. She’d volunteer during preschool hours or when her husband was home with the kids. Sometimes, she’d even pay a sitter.
Last year, after a 5 year absence, she negotiated a paid part-time position at this same church. She works 20-25 hours per week, doing work that’s important, but not urgent, and doesn’t have to be done at any certain time during the week. She has control over her hours and, to a large degree, her location. During the school year, she works while the kids are at school. When the kids are off, she works from home and tries to schedule her on-site meetings for when her husband’s home with the kids. Her husband has a flexible schedule, too, so this works pretty well most of the time. They hire a sitter to fill in the gaps.
She’s one of many mothers I know who’ve returned to paid church work because they love it, and because their income helps the family bottom line in a dicey economy. They’ve all noted the same trends over the past decade: the dress code’s going casual. Face time isn’t as important. Hours are more flexible. There are more part-time workers. There are a lot more moms among them.
These women’s situations are not unique, and though they work for churches, these trends are widespread across fields. This is happening. The black and white world of working mother vs. stay-at-home mother is giving way to grey.
The new grey
Young women are looking for solutions and they’re looking for models. They don’t need snarky criticism; they need to know about their possibilities. Now there is a whole spectrum of grey available, and many women are finding a point on that continuum that suits them and their families. Writers write because they love to, photographers shoot, runners run. Sometimes they get childcare for these things. If a woman loves to serve in church–and gets paid for it–because that’s where her passion lies, let her do it without criticism.
My friend and I were recently talking about mothering, and work, and how our perspectives had evolved over the years. “I find that newer mothers tend to be more black and white in their ideals,” she said. Her words rang true: when I became a mom at 24, I lacked the experience to have a nuanced view of anything. “More experience lets you understand the grey.”
The workplace is going grey, but because this is still so new, we’re making it up as we go.
Have you noticed this trend? Are you part of it?